Monday, February 4, 2013


The out-and-out rock song is structured like a series of switchbacks and hairpin turns.

It begins like a rant against injustice, against those who "line their pockets off the misery of the poor" and other human rights abuses. Why can't we all just enjoy the blessings of nature, Simon muses, and "wash our face[s] in the summer... rain"?

Then the song takes an unexpected twist. Rather than continue to point his indignation outward, he directs his accusatory finger at himself; "It's outrageous a man like me stand here and complain." (Yes, with this lack of punctuation and prepositions!)

We expect the song  to then proceed in one of two ways. One would be to encourage himself to "do something" rather than just "stand there." The other would be to say that all people should do likewise.

But neither course is taken. Instead, Simon immediately pardons himself. "I'm tired/ Nine hundred sit-ups a day!" His self-maintenance is taking up all of his energy, and he has none left to volunteer, say, or advocate for a cause. On top of that, he has to disguise his age, which is also time consuming... and dispiriting! Instead of simply saying "I'm dying my hair, even-- can you believe it?!" Simon moans: "I'm painting my hair the color of mud!"

Between his age and his deceptive practices toward hiding it, who would take him seriously, anyway, should he bother to advocate for some cause: "Anybody care what I say? No! I'm painting my hair the color of mud!"

Now comes a deeper insecurity, repeated several times: "Who's gonna love you when your looks are gone?" So the bluster that began the song has turned to doubt and self-pity.

But... this is uncomfortable, so he lashes out again, first against the poor quality of "food they try to serve in a public school," and then being talked down to and patronized by... well, it hardly matters! Them!

Yes, there is a "blessing" to be found, not this time in nature but in relationships, in "the circle of your love." There, he finds "rest." But no peace. The last thing he finds "outrageous" is that he "can't stop thinking 'bout the things [he's] thinking of." This is the same mental restlessness that has dogged Simon for ages.

Simon repeats his litany of self-care, again wondering if he will be lovable when he is no longer attractive: "Tell me/ Who's gonna love you when your looks are gone?"

Surprisingly, he hits upon an answer: "God." God's love is unconditional and free-flowing. Why, He even "waters the flowers on your windowsill." Surely, He would not abandon a human, simply because he has outlived his attractiveness! What cares God, Who has no appearance, for yours, one way or another?

So far, Simon has been speaking to the general "you," but now he makes it clear he means himself: "Take me," he says, for example. "I'm an ordinary player in the key of C," a very ordinary key. While we might see Simon as an exceptional musician, he evidently compares himself unfavorably to even more skilled players.

"My will/ Was broken by my pride and my vanity," Simon confesses. For decades, Simon has been a vocal advocate of social justice and human rights, ambitious in his career, and in general an "alpha male." But now he realizes that this fire has been doused. He seems to say: "Who's going to listen to a old codger, who can't even pull off a decent dye job to look young? Who is going to love some geezer, all gone gray?"

And he tries to find some solace that, at the last, he will still be loved by God. But even his hoped-for source of acceptance rings hollow. Even though he knows, on some level, that his lack of self-confidence is more unattractive than his gray hair, he can't help himself.

So the song that began with the soapbox orator railing against all things "outrageous" trails off with the unanswered, unfulfilled longing question: "Who's gonna love you when your looks are gone?" What began with a bang has ended with a whimper.

Yes, all of the things Simon said were "outrageous" and unacceptable are indeed so. But what he finds most unacceptable is his own mortality and impending frailty. No amount of outrage, no number of sit-ups, no tonnage (gallon-age?) of hair dye is going to stop the march of age.

He flails-- maybe he can find meaning in standing for a cause, or basking in nature, or relishing love, or worshiping God. The one place he doesn't look for love is... inside himself. But then, if no one will love him, he is unlovable! And what is the love of an unlovable person worth, anyway?

And so he unceasingly seeks outside confirmation and assurance, all while projecting the supposition that he may now be too wrinkly to love. The quest is endless, and so the song ends with an unanswered question.

Next Song: Sure Don't Feel Like Love

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